Even for VANdal, we have been somewhat “off the grid” the last few months. Truth be told, we haven’t written much these last few months following our Katie Lou’s unexpected passing. Katie Lou was our beloved dog — our best adventure buddy & travel companion — and for whom VANdal was built around. (You can meet Katie Lou and see some of our adventures here on this youtube video. Warning: It’s long. Seven minutes long, in fact. But these are our memories and we couldn’t make it a minute shorter. 🙂
#VANlife isn’t the same without her, but nevertheless, we continue to receive your questions and feedback on the site and wanted to start addressing some of your most commonly asked questions.
One inquiry we get frequently is how we handle our precautionary security measures when we’re on the road. Unfortunately, recent events in our nation and throughout the world have travelers of all types on high alert, so it seems a poignant time to answer this question. Sure, safety is a concern when boondocking, but it’s equally as important wherever you roam. If you’re not already counting the number of rows to the exit doors in the theatre and identifying all of the emergency exits next time you board a plane, we’d encourage you to take stock of your proactive defensiveness strategy. Hopefully, you’ll never have to call upon this information, but in the meantime, they are good brain games to keep those neurons nice & supple… plus, it can’t hurt in an emergency.
Whether you choose to conduct your VANlife escapades in a stealthy urban environment or out in the boonies, a few common sense rules apply. We’re fortunate to have never encountered a dicey situation. Honestly, we’ve had more run-ins with cops checking us out and making sure we were legit than the other way around. Our preparedness strategy is simple and we try to prepare for the worst as intelligently as possible without worrying about it so much that we are paralyzed into inaction.
1 – Start with the obvious. Lock your doors, for instance. Seems simple enough, but using common sense in place of complacency can keep you safe. We were with friends who were staying in a similar van one night in the Keys. They forgot to lock their doors and and a couple of kids tried to get into their van while they were sleeping. Their dogs went NUTS and luckily saved the day, quickly derailing the kids’ plan to get inside the van. Luckily nothing happened, but it’s a good reminder that the most obvious precautions can spell the difference between a safe night a nightmare.
2 – Improve your situational awareness. Take stock of everything around you & work on memorizing the faces of the people you come into contact with on the trail or on the road. It’s a brain exercise that could save your life whether you’re boondocking or just happen to find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We always go for a walk and do a perimeter check of the area we’re staying in before we commit to closing up and camping. This is true whether we are doing an urban or completely wooded stay. We look for evidence of use (bottles, cans, garbage, tire tracks, and general signs that people may have been up to no good there). On one of our first trips to Colorado, for instance, we should have heeded those words of wisdom. We got in very late and decided to stay at a park (and we missed the signs telling us there was no overnight parking). We parked on top of a hill in a beautiful spot which seemed perfect at the time. Two hours later there were cops knocking on our door demanding that we leave. Luckily, they were quite polite and we were obviously compliant, otherwise it could have been an ugly situation. In the morning, we came back and found evidence of party paraphernalia in that spot. No wonder the cops were so quick to get us out of there! In retrospect, had we taken the time to investigate the site first we most certainly would have avoided it.
3 – Know your location & how to state it CLEARLY. Especially if we’re staying in forest service land, we always identify our location on a map so that if there is a problem, we can state our location. If you can’t give some kind of clear verbal cue to your location, you probably shouldn’t be there. As you’re driving into camp, think of your position in terms of directional bearings, landmarks, and approximate distances so that if there’s an emergency, you can get help efficiently. We use the Forest Service motor vehicle use maps here or on our PDF iPhone maps app and try not to rely solely on the GPS. When you park, it’s important to always consider your exit strategy. Whether you need to make a quick getaway due to weather or a human threat, park in such a way that an easy escape is possible. Usually, it’s a good idea to be as far off the road and unobtrusive as possible. It goes without saying that you should respect the land you’re on and know what kind of land use is at play so that you’re not caught off guard when you hear logging trucks drive by – or worse, hunting rifles, for instance.
4 – Carry only what you can use. In places where it is legal, we do carry a weapon and keep it accessible, but we’ve fortunately never had to use it. This level of security preparedness is a very personal preference and we feel it is important to be familiar with the laws of the state/country you’re in before choosing to carry. Having a gun is one thing, but being prepared to use it and then dealing with the aftermath of that scenario is completely another.
5 – Prepare for the worst but don’t FEAR the worst. In general, we’ve been met with mostly positive interactions with people on the road. In the types of locations we visit, it is rare to see someone who wants to start trouble. The law of probably is on your side in the woods and the likelihood of a security threat is minimal. So our strategy is to prepare for the worst but not to FEAR the worst. Otherwise we wouldn’t take the few calculated risks that allow us to get out and explore.
Questions? Connect with us or leave a comment below. We’d love to hear how you take security precautions on the road.